DEBATE: Support The Statement (Sneaky Novella ReReading)

I’ve done “support the statement” activities in the past, but none quite like this debate version that student teacher Caroline Spurr suggested. I highly recommend giving this a try. No, there are no points awarded. Just one side reads their quote (& page #), other side gets rebuttal, then repeat.

How do you find the argūmentum?!

Good Q! I’ll be on the lookout for specific debate topics from now on when we read every novella, but here are some general tips:

  • Come up with a question (e.g., Do the Romans and Egyptians value Marcus?), then one team rereads to find statements supporting a “yes” response, and the other “no.”
  • Go with something from the book students are already talking about (e.g., you hear “ugh, I hate Terrex. He’s the worst!” so you set up something like “Terrex is terrible vs. Terrex is not terrible”).
  • Turn qualities into a comparison (e.g., Who’s stronger?).
  • Compare two characters (e.g., Who’s more responsible, Piso’s mother or father?).
  • Choose a statement that falls under a theme found in the book, then one team rereads to find statements supporting it, and the other its negative.

Critical Thinking
Almost every student thinks that Olianna‘s family is cruel, with good reason since the book states that explicitly in several places! However, this novella debate builds evidence-seeking skills. We just told one half of the room to put aside their own thoughts and instead scour the pages for anything used to support the position that the family is not cruel. Although the unpopular opinion, every class was able to find at least some evidence, and they spent time rereading. This goes back to communicative purpose. Why did students reread? To prepare for a debate they found compelling to participate in. This was pure entertainment.

That particular debate topic of Olianna’s family being cruel was certainly stacked in one direction. However, the book ends with several prediction questions about the future, which is a common way I end my novellas to promote discussion. For the second debate, we had students vote on one of the questions. Half the class looked for quotes to support “yes” and the other half “no.”

The format is basically think | pair | share, with students a) spending time on their own rereading (sneaky, right?) and writing a quote and its page # in notebooks (FYI, notebook pics are great evidence of learning for gradebooks), b) pairing with group to discuss what they found, and then c) the debate.

Back To Comprehension Basics: Don’t Speak Latin

No, I haven’t reverted back to the grammar-focused pedagogy of the 90s (and no, not the 1890s, either. Grammar teaching is still the dominant one today, which I predict will hold true for another 20 years). Instead, I’m going to challenge us all speaking Latin in the classroom to do so under just one condition:

Students will understand what you’re about to say.

It sounds too basic, I know, but not everyone does this or does this enough. Hence, back to the basics of comprehension-based teaching, right? So my challenge is now out there. If the condition isn’t met, say something in English, or change what we’re about to say to meet the condition. Of course, this challenge wouldn’t exclude the use of new words. No way. How else would students ever expand vocab?! However, this does mean that we must provide CI by using mostly words students already understand, allowing for just a few new ones during class, and then be sure students understand those new words (i.e., at least tell them what the new words mean in English, demonstrate the meaning whenever possible, and use a picture/realia if applicable).

Speech Rate & Text Coverage
The research of Hsueh-Chao & Nation as well as Laufer shows that a text must have 98% coverage of known vocab (tokens) to have a chance of being read with ease (because even 95% text coverage can get woefully low comprehension scores of 55%!). Well, that’s with texts, when the student able to control the pace and even reread! Speech doesn’t work that way. When we say something, the student can’t control our speech rate. They have to signal us. There’s no 15sec replay. They have to signal us. While we’re working towards training students to self-advocate for comprehension, the reality is that listening to Latin is the MUCH harder mode to process. Therefore, it goes without saying that we should be using 98%+ text coverage in speech. Only speaking the target language in class when students will understand will maximize comprehension. Who doesn’t want that?! Practically speaking, then, I challenge us to all give pause the moment we’re about to say something students don’t understand yet, then do the following:

  1. Say it in English and move on.
  2. Restate using other words students already understand.
  3. Use the new word/phrase, immediately establish meaning, then provide micro-exposure.

Micro-exposure
This is my term for giving students a little bit of concentrated exposure to what has the potential to be a one-off and out-of-bounds word/phrase. In practice, when a new word/phrase comes up, expect to sit with it for some statements and questions for a minute or two. Yes, a minute or two. This helps keep vocab limited and comprehension high without vocab overload and noise that students start to get used to (i.e., they begin to tune out the input and be OK with incomprehension because there’s so much of it during class).

Consider the alternative for a minute: a class during which we teachers use new words/phrases as a reaction to what students say. That’s basically a translation class (English –> Latin) without much expectation (and hope) that students will ever be exposed to those words/phrases again.

Think of micro-exposure as circling or something if that helps you, too. However it’s understood and whatever it’s called, we must acknowledge that the absence of micro-exposure entirely can result in a ton of vocab and high levels of incomprehension, or some kind of one-off situational experience like the translation class. Only the kids with the best, most freakish memories will absorb all that input, and there aren’t too many of them in class, if at all.

So, are you ready to not speak Latin unless students will understand what you’re about to say? Why or why not?

Jamboard: Read & Teacher-Draw, and Free Reading

Add short sections of a text to the top of a Jamboard (it’s in your Google apps), read as a whole class and have students tell you how to depict what’s going on. They probably won’t be speaking the target language (TL), but that doesn’t matter. You will. If they say “oh oh oh, don’t forget their hair,” just restate in the TL: “ah, dēbeō capillōs dēlīneāre? ego possum capillōs optimōs dēlīneāre. ecce! capillōs magnōs et rīdiculōs dēlīneō!”

“Why not have students do a Read & Draw?!” Good question.

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Skip The Quiz: The Monitor Assessment

You wouldn’t expect to read a Magister P blog post and end up doing more work, would ya? Naw, and this doesn’t disappoint. The Monitor Assessment should help a little with what is yet another exhausting year teaching, but be sure to keep it once we’re on the other side.

  1. Instead of creating, administering, and scoring quizzes, have students do some kind of read and translate in pairs or small groups, preferably in preparation to a team game. My go-to right now is the Lucky Reading Game, which you can read about somewhere here.
  2. Walk around and monitor the groups, making note of any incomprehension.
  3. That’s it.

Firstly, yes, this is most definitely an assessment because you assess comprehension, and can jump in to make language more comprehensible, which is immediate feedback. Secondly, no, don’t bother grading this assessment! Not every assessment needs to be scored and then dropped into the gradebook. In fact, definitely don’t do that.

I’ve maintained that the only adjustment language teachers need to make is to provide students with more input, which should be happening anyway, so assessments don’t change much. That’s still true. However, The Monitor Assessment can provide insight into which kids need more support (e.g., more comprehension checks, or direct questions during class), as well as give us an overall sense of how comprehensible our texts are, especially a day or two later, acting almost like a delayed test that shows what stuck. I suppose, then, that The Monitor Assessment can be a handy tool to catch ourselves from moving too fast, and be more responsive and deliberate with vocab. In that sense, these are adjustments that can only help the necessity of providing input. Of course, if texts are at- or below-level to begin with, The Monitor Assessment will confirm that, and no further adjustment needs to be made, anyway! Oh, and the beautiful part?

No prep.

That’s right. This assessment is 100% prep-free since you already had a text to read for the team game, right?

Communicate ≠ Communication ≠ Communicative Approach ≠ Comprehension

I thought it’d be helpful to go through some terms that seem to be used interchangeably. Why? The misunderstandings have an effect on pedagogical discussions, and there’s always room for reminders. So, communication, as defined by at least Sandra Savignon and Bill VanPatten, boils down to “the interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning.” Each researcher added details like “within a given context, and “sometimes negotiation,” but the basic idea us teachers can focus on is in the three words, also conveniently picked up by ACTFL and keyed to their three modes: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational.

  • Examples of interpreting Latin would include listening and reading. You can do this alone. It’s one-way (input).
  • Examples of negotiating in Latin would include some interaction, which isn’t necessarily spoken because you can respond in non-verbal ways, and you can also do this via writing, such as email correspondence. You can’t do this alone. It’s two-way (input + output).
  • Examples of expressing Latin would include writing or speaking. You can do this alone, such as when writing a story, or publicly speaking. It’s one-way (output). When giving a presentation, there are people there, but you don’t necessarily have to interact with them. Think lecture without follow-up, or better yet, think videos. TikTok videos are people expressing meaning. Of course, any follow-up would involve interaction, thus becoming interpersonal communication.

OK, those are very clear examples of communication from a second language perspective. However, when most people say that they “communicate” with others, that usually just means speaking, and maaaaaaybe writing. That is, the verb “communicate” is often synonymous with “talk,” and almost always suggests two-way interaction. That’s…fine…but we start running into problems when language teachers use the two interchangeably…

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Independent Reading & Speaking Latin

I recently updated the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) to include ongoing Class Days and Culture Days. This provides more of a balance to the year without the previous “Unit 1/Unit 2” structure that each lasted approximately an entire semester. I also made sure to list independent reading as a key component. Yeah, I obviously have a stake in whether teachers build class libraries and include my books, but the whole reason I got into writing novellas in the first place is because I bought into the idea of independent reading tenfold…

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Survey Says…Kids Like Self-Assessment! (et cētera)

Considering how impersonal the year felt, the responses from this end-of-year survey support an early prediction many of us had that learning and growth/development would take place this year after all, though certainly different from what we’ve expected in the past. To be clear, “learning loss” is a myth, and you should stop anyone trying to talk about that dead in their tracks. You simply cannot lose what you never had in the first place. It was a talking point used to get kids into schools ASAP, and nothing more. If students, or even just their learning were truly the priority, the conversation would be about improving living conditions for families at the societal level, as well as fully-funding our public schools.

Anyway, let’s start with the first question on my mind: grading. I’ve settled on the system after experience with a LOT of different ones, but what about students? The open-ended responses explaining what kind of grading students preferred are quite genuine. Scroll through the slideshow to see:

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Bracey For NEA Director, Prep Time, & Prepped For 2021-22

I continue to claim that teachers have the most positive impact on learning when there’s ample time to reflect and prepare. It sounds basic, but this isn’t reality for most. Ideally, for every class hour taught, there should be at least 30min prep time, and bonus if it’s 1:1 (e.g. teach four classes, have four hours to plan, every day). This probably sounds insane, but only because most teachers have been working insane schedules. It’s unhealthy. Most teachers put up with the madness of something like one guaranteed prep period a day, etc., which leaves them kind of screwed if they teach more than one course, which is almost everyone, especially teachers of less-commonly taught languages (LCTL) who prep all levels as a department of one. No wonder there hasn’t been much innovation in education, there’s no time for it! The solution? First of all, teachers should streamline their practices so they don’t waste that precious time doing something like grading, or giving the same feedback over and over that students won’t read, or pretending their code system will make any difference. Beyond that, it takes adequate funding to hire more teachers. That should be a reasonable ask, and is just one of the many reasons why I’m supporting John Bracey as NEA Director in the runoff, who’s vying for fully-funded public schools in Massachusetts among other crucial fights. It’s ridiculous this even has to be part of any campaign at all, right? Fully-funded public education should be the unquestionable foundation of society, period. Vote Bracey. He’ll get that job done.

Anyway, I’ve finally made it to a point in my career where in these last weeks I get everything ready for the fall. I’ve been close to accomplishing that in the past, but there’s always been this August calendar event I set up that goes something like “read this, review that, create this, think about that,” yet there’s usually no time, even for someone like me hyperaware of prep time. Guess what? I already did all that stuff, and consolidated the ideas into this one post so the work is truly done to start 2021-22.

Posters
I sat in the middle of the room, looked around as if I were a student, and updated every poster that was hard to read. Really, what’s the point of having them if kids can’t see them?! Most are now on 11×17 at 120-pt font, with 80-pt English given below the Latin. Clarity is key, and so is comprehension. I’ll be pointing to these posters a LOT to establish meaning, and then even more when cuing it. I’ve also took down posters I couldn’t remember using. Some posters are nice in concept, but I’m just not gonna refer to fractions in Latin, etc. Also, I’ve redesigned my numbers, and put up my “who needs a boost” and “what would you like?” The latter are actually my first new practices I’ll have to be mindful of, which deserves a number, and bold color to draw attention when I check back in here come August. 1) Use Boosts & Quid velīs?

quālitātēs
Since the cognate list has grown to over 700 words, I updated quālitātēs to have *only* cognates, and dropped the English. There are 19 pages with about 160 words organized by positive, neutral, and negative adjectives. My plan is to show students how much Latin they probably already understand, while at the same time introduce English words not in their vocabulary. For example, diabolicum is just too good of a word to avoid using (any fans of The Boys out there?). I’m also going to use these lists more deliberately, like when we describe characters during storytelling. This is another new practice. 2) Use quālitātēs.

Password Now “Weekly Word(s)
This one’s simple. I used to stop students at the door requiring a rotating class password (but really for a quick check-in), and I wouldn’t let them in if they forgot the password. It was kinda fun except for when it wasn’t. The update is a reframing. No passwords, just weekly words now, but I’ll use the same words/phrases that went over well in the past. The very first one has always been “salvē!” which makes sense. However, I’m adding “…sum [___]” to the end so I get to hear how students pronounce their own name for a week. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this sooner!

DEA (Daily Engagement Agreements) Now “Look, Listen, Ask
The update to collecting gradebook evidence that now has a weekly focus on Look, Listen, and Ask means I won’t need to refer to these the way I used to. I’m not even gonna mention the word “rule.” Also, it’s a good thing I wrote about this, because I hadn’t made that Google Form yet. Check! 3) Use new form to collect gradebook evidence on focus areas.

TPR Wall
I’ve never really had much success with Total Physical Response, and haven’t been around students who like to act during collaborative storytelling either (i.e. so no TPRS for me). I’ve just removed all expectations (hopes?) for these things. It’s not the culture here. I’m not gonna force it. Therefore, I cleared up a whole wall that had TPR words, and moved the Look, Listen, and Ask posters over there.

Safety Nets
I’ve already written about this, but it’s worth a reminder that I won’t have to establish the routine.

Digital Fluency Write/Timed Write Form
I’ve been having students type Latin into a Google Form, then count up their words (responses from each class section all link to the same spreadsheet). It turns out there’s a formula =IF(C2=””,””,COUNTA(SPLIT(C2,” “))) that takes care of the counting. Drop it into a column in the spreadsheet, and you’re all set. Check out how close it comes to students counting one-by-one! I still review the student’s writing and adjust for only Latin words & names in that last column, but the formula skips the step of students counting—and miscounting—after writing.

Eval
I’ve been using timed writes for years to show growth. However, I haven’t been totally happy with the measurements used in the teacher evaluation goal setting. For example, if it’s by percentage, some students have increased their word count 1250%, while others by just 5%. If it’s by total word count, some students are writing 89 words, while others are still writing 10. If it’s by word increase, some students have written 74 more words than their first, and others just one or two. Regardless of the measurement, some students start writing a LOT right away, and don’t make much progress because most are just in that plateau of hanging out at Novice High or something. Therefore, I need a more variable goal that takes into account all these situations based on an average of the first three writing samples:

Under 10 will double.
10-30 will increase by 50%.
Over 30 will increase by 25%.

Also, I’ll have to get writing samples early on within a few weeks (not months) so I have a more accurate baseline. I’m also adding two new practices to help increase comprehension when reading, lead to acquisition, and result in higher output. These are alternating between 4) Code-switched Readings and Facing English in addition to full glossaries. Every text will include at least one of these three supports.

Activities
**Update: In particular, I’m gonna be sure to start with Card Talk Stories. This could be 4.5.** Due to remote teaching, I haven’t had much experience with a lot of things on my lists of input-based strategies & activities, and how to get texts. Therefore, I’m not ready to ditch any of them. Also, we’ll have more classes in what should be a more typical year, so I might need to draw from those lists to keep things novel. In particular, I’m thinking of varying reading activities considerably more. So, I’ll be sure to consult the lists when planning. 5) Check lists, weekly.

Syllabus/Learning Plan
For the first time ever in my teaching career, I had the opportunity to review the entire year’s class agendas! I thought I’d end up with a long list of activities and a rough sequence for the year, but no. First of all, I don’t plan more than a day or two in advance, and certainly not more than a week out. Second of all, it turns out I already did some of that work when creating my core practices! However, until I’m familiar with the whole teaching thing next fall—because I DO forget how to teach, every single year—I’ll make it a point to review all those practices: 6) Check out core practices, weekly. Still, looking back at the entire year’s class agendas was helpful. Hands down, I’m keeping “hodiē,” the one doc I open each day and work from, for organization (although I’ll be created a new Google Classroom assignment each week to better help students keep track). Here are some other routines and ideas I found from reviewing the agendas that I want to make sure I include next year:

  • A basic Talk & Read format to each class
  • Start class with date + something else to copy into notebook (statement, story, excerpt, etc.)
  • Use digital class libraries (only print for certain activities)
  • Build in time to read on own (since no more expectations of reading at home)
  • Occasional Flashcard Blitz
  • Brain Breaks
    • JUST a break…lap around school, etc.
    • Rock, Paper, Scissors
    • Higher/Lower prediction w/ cards
    • Which Would You Choose?
    • Fun Facts (but ask as if they were T/F)
  • Use general prompts during novella month (February)
  • Consider January a “reset,” spiraling back down to lower level texts & novellas
  • Do a 1-class CALP more often, and after each novella (poll students on some related topic from the book)

Blog Posts
Also a first in my career, I reviewed every blog post I wrote since last August. Here are various reminders and ideas that might influence the year to come:

Summary
So, here I am. There’s a LOT of stuff in this one post to review come August. After all, I plan to take a full summer break. No PD. No posts?! Maybe. Who knows, but having all my work done in order to set up next year’s success feels real good, and maybe the consolidated resources will help you, too.

Rethinking Safety Nets: Do We NEED Them?!

I was looking at some posters in my classroom last week and stopped at the Safety Nets signals (i.e. “unclear,” “write it,” and “too fast”). Honestly, I cannot recall the last time a student used them. I have no memory of the situation, or what year it was, and I have a pretty good memory. Is this stuff too pedantic for high school kids? Or worse, is it not culturally responsive? Yeah, maybe….

In reality, I’ve had one major safety net this entire time teaching communicatively: English (L1/native). That’s because I don’t pretend class should be exclusively in the target language. It doesn’t need to be, and maybe shouldn’t be in most contexts. Still, let’s say going full-immersion to near-immersion were just a neutral teacher preference. Well, I’ve never preferred it, even when I tried it. I did try it, too, having misunderstood “CI” teaching in the beginning to mean “speaking all the time”—a misunderstanding that persists with new teachers or new-to-CI teachers today. When I had a “no English rule,” there was always something nagging me about that role-play that didn’t quite sit well. I even have a short video used in grad school for the EdTPA requirement with students miming to each other attempting to express some basic idea because there was a “no English” rule. It’s downright embarrassing (no, I won’t share that vid, nice try), and proof of how ineffective something forced can be—whatever it is.

So in the classroom last week, it hit me: I’ve always used English to check comprehension (i.e. “what does X mean?”), even when there was some expectation of target language use (or even that old “no English” policing rule). So it follows…

  • Why have I been asking students to do anything different?!
  • Why do we need special signals students have to learn and be comfortable doing to show incomprehension?!
  • Why am I pretending I can’t tell when students have NO clue what’s going on?!

That last one is a striking reflection. I’m never surprised when something confuses students. I can literally see it, and I can even anticipate it. All I need is a perplexed look, blank stare, or “hey Mister, wait!” from the more outgoing ones. The more I think about it, the more I realize all of the safety nets meant to help slow-processing students actually just made it harder for the shy ones, forced to let all their classmates know they don’t get it. Our work as a staff regarding equity does make me question safety nets, too. Although the intention of making class more equitable from a comprehension standpoint by using signals makes sense, we gotta ask ourselves: Do these ever work? For everyone A short answer in the best contexts is “sure,” although I know that beyond the first week of classes or so, it became one of those routines that feel like work and just faded away—like the “Who?” student job that gets old real fast! The safety net thing might be something teachers do well during demos. However, demos are great for convincing teachers to use best practices when teachers can *feel* like a student again. Safety nets might also work really well when teachers participate as students in demos or beginner language classes. However, teachers tend to have about 8,000% more interest and motivation than your typical student. In sum, we know that demos and the teacher-as-student experience aren’t always the best contexts for modelling what we do with students in our own classrooms, so keep that in mind!

So, goodbye safety nets!